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Overseas openings well-timed for kudos bumps

Offshore markets aim for Oscar gold

All five films in contention for best pic at the Academy Awards will be launched in the majority of the key offshore markets over the next month, aiming to cash in on the Oscars’ heat.

“The Aviator,” arguably the most overtly commercial pic of the group, with 11 noms behind it, stands to benefit the most from the kudos and hoopla.

But the nominations are almost certain to boost the B.O. prospects of “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray” and “Sideways” by varying degrees.

If there’s a downside, it’s that with all five contenders competing for screens, audiences, airtime and ink in many markets within four weeks, one or two may get lost in the crowded Oscar corridor.

“With the shortened Oscar season, these films don’t have a lot of time to make hay,” said one U.S. major rep. “It’s rare to see all the best pic nominees going out at around the same time.”

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“The Aviator” bowed Jan. 28 in Italy, where distrib 01 quickly bumped up the print run from 400 to 450 after the noms.

“We have selected the best and biggest theaters across Italy to show the picture,” said the distrib’s commercial director Luigi Lonegro, adding that expectations are ‘very high.'”

The Howard Hughes biopic took off Jan. 20 in Germany, delivering strong numbers that were nevertheless lower than those of fellow frosh “Blade: Trinity.”

“The Aviator” had a solid soph session in Spain, where one exhib says the Oscar nom will increase its longevity.

“Finding Neverland” was released in the U.K. in November and it’s doubtful it will get much uplift from its seven nods after generating a passable $6.5 million.

The Johnny Depp starrer has pocketed around $17 million in 10 markets, including a fair $3 million in 10 days in Japan. It rolls out in the rest of Europe and Mexico next month.

“We’re stepping it up,” said Miramax Intl.’s Jere Hausfater, referring to the foreign campaigns and print runs. “It’s now on people’s radars as a must-see picture.”

“Million Dollar Baby” has been released only in the U.K., where it’s nabbed a tidy $3.9 million in 10 days, actually improving by 1% in its second weekend.

Lakeshore Entertainment, which is handling the Clint Eastwood-helmed pic overseas, “is cashing in on the nods and building the film throughout January and into February with previews and sneaks,” says Robert Burke, VP and head of worldwide marketing.

“The release plan in most countries is similar to ‘Mystic River’ but a step up in print count,” Burke said. “In essence, it’s a high-end arthouse film that shouldn’t have to battle it out with the major print releases, despite all of the awards recognition. The goal is for a mid-level release, high per screens with WOM to create longevity.”

The Hilary Swank starrer enters the ring on 200-250 prints in Italy and Germany, and is pegged for 170-plus in Spain, 350-400 in France and 120-150 in Japan. Lakeshore hopes Eastwood and Swank will travel to France to tubthump the pic.

“Sideways” launched Jan. 26 in Australia and Jan. 28 in the U.K., its first major markets. Fox is giving Alexander Payne’s pic a midsize release: 120 copies in Blighty, 140 in France, 100 in Germany and 58 in Oz. It goes out in Europe and most of Asia next month, and a modest 40-print release in Japan is slated for March 5.

Early portents are good as “Sideways” has grossed $410,000 from just 15 screens in 12 days in Greece.

“Ray” had a checkered start to its foreign travels, opening modestly in the U.K. and weakly in Italy; the Jamie Foxx starrer has shown reasonable legs in Germany, garnering $2.6 million in three weeks.

In the U.K., bookers were predicting a single-figure drop for the pic’s second weekend, aided by its six noms.

UIP is debuting “Ray” in most key markets between now and the Feb. 27 Oscars, hoping the noms will draw older folks who often are hard to coax to cinemas.

Sheri Jennings in Rome, Norma Nebot in Madrid, Archie Thomas in London and Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.